Much o f the historiography o f antebellum Southern masculinity could sup port this interpretation. In the pre-C ivil War South, law and the culture o f honor demanded that white males establish dominance over women. Mastery was essential to manhood and honor. O nly dishonorable men failed to regulate
members o f their households, whether enslaved blacks, white children, or white wom en.3 But while culture permitted men to use violence to control women, it also set limits to that violence, enforcing them through communal condemnation or attacks on men who went too far. Men who killed white de pendents, especially their wives, could meet a gruesome retribution in the tar, rough music, and humiliation o f the charivari, or even death by lynching.4 Cultural historians, therefore, might understand the murder ballad as a warn ing (as some have interpreted “Omie W ise” ) to white men not to go too far in their prescribed violence.